Book review: The Bit in Between by Claire Varley

Monday, August 24, 2015 Permalink

Claire Varley’s debut book has been compared to the likes of The Rosie Project. And with good reason, as it features similarly quirky lead characters and is written with the witty whimsy reminiscent of Rosie Project author, Graeme Simsion.

The blurb

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately.

Inexplicably.

Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with ‘happily ever after’.

the bit in between

My thoughts

I was particularly keen to read this book as I spent some time in the Solomon Islands in 2002. I was the Australian-based project manager for a health project and travelled there 4-5 times over the course of the year. I think the longest I spent there was a month… however I didn’t get to travel much as things were starting to become unsettled (pre-Regional Assistance Mission). I did however see enough of the country and its people that I could relate to the world Varley painted.

I found myself constantly transported back to the (ocean-side and hillside) houses I visited when there and the busy streets I walked as Varley creates a strong sense of place.

Although this novel charts the relationship of Oliver and Alison, for me it was very much about Alison. I was in her head the entire time and found her to be realistic and likeable.

As someone who’s lived in a few developing countries I appreciated that Alison took the time to get to know her hosts and their customs and culture. Oliver was very much in his own little world – and I believe Varley has written him thus so that Alison becomes his window to the world outside and (in some ways) conduit to normality.

I enjoyed the story arc as Alison settled into life in the Solomons and Oliver struggled with his novel… eventually finding inspiration via Alison’s exploits.

The support cast was also well developed and again I could relate to the expat / international consultants swarming the place—and the larger-than-life (American contractor) Rick was perfectly drawn in this respect.

But Varley’s passion for the place and people of the Solomon Islands is what really shone through. Through Alison and her friendship with the delightful Sera, we’re privy to the customs and culture of the Sols.

The Bit in Between is essentially a love story, but it’s set in a complex and changing world which impacts on our characters…. well, on one of them and that’s probably why Alison and Oliver start to untangle.

This is a great debut novel and I’m pleased to hear that Varley’s already working on her next book.

The Bit in Between by Claire Varley was released by Pan Macmillan on 1 August 2015.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

PS. Stay tuned for my interview with Claire Varley this coming Friday!

Do you enjoy reading about flawed characters?

30 Comments
  • JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)
    August 25, 2015

    I agree, great debut novel. And although I’ve never been to The Solomon Islands, Varley did paint the setting well enough that I felt I was there.

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Yes, it had me remembering things from over a decade ago – the blue of the houses, the markets etc…

  • Lydia C. Lee
    August 25, 2015

    Flawed characters are the most interesting ones. Especially as you watch them do terrible things for the ‘right reason’

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Oh indeed Lydia! And if they’re well-written you can completely relate to what they’re doing or understand it even when you know it’s not gonna end well!

  • Michelle Weaver (@pinkypoinker)
    August 25, 2015

    I must tell my mother about this. She loved The Rosie Project so I’m sure she’d love this. I like novels that give you a sense of place. It makes me feel like I’m learning something. I loved that about the Falkland Islands book you reviewed.

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Absolutely Michelle. I had the same experience with Gun Street Girl recently (I reviewed on the weekend) re Northern Ireland in the 1980s!

      This book reflects a little on the history of the Solomons as well as recent events. (And the book Oliver’s writing is historical fiction.)

  • HandbagMafia
    August 25, 2015

    Sounds like a great read! I’ve never been to the Solomon Islands but I like the idea of a novel that can give you the feel of a place.

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Oh yes and it was very much the case here Amy.

  • Sarah @She Writes
    August 25, 2015

    I will add this one to the list!

  • Min (@riteofthemiddle)
    August 25, 2015

    I love reading your reviews Deb! This certainly sounds like a book I’d like to read. My husband went on a work trip to the Solomon Islands a few years back and brought me back a few little trinkets. I’ve seen quite a few photo’s from his trip and heard the stories so I do think I have a bit of a sense of the place!

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Thanks Min. Your hubby would probably enjoy it as well!

  • EssentiallyJess
    August 25, 2015

    It sounds awesome. I will have to add it to my list. I’m really interested in debut novels at the moment.
    And yes, I love a flawed character. They are so much more believable.

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      My interview on Friday doesn’t talk about this a great deal Jess, as Claire has done a heap of other interviews (in which she talks about the writing process), but her novel got picked out of the slush pile at Pan Macmillan – so she’s one of those rare few who just submitted her manuscript (or part of it) cold turkey and… voila!

  • Malinda (@MBPaperPackages)
    August 25, 2015

    I love reading stories that make you feel transported to another place, so vivid are their descriptions. I will have to keep an eye out for this book.

  • Renee Wilson
    August 25, 2015

    Thanks for the hot tip. I’m looking for a good new book to read. What an interesting job you had in the Solomon Islands! #teamIBOT

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      Yes… a lifetime ago I used to work in development. (Mozambique, Cambodia, East Timor and then managed projects in Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands from Australia!).

  • divabooknerd
    August 25, 2015

    Ooh, really looking forward to seeing that interview Deb, I’m fascinated by debut authors and how excited they are about finally having their work out there. Although I’ve never travelled out of Australia, that’s the beauty of fiction, that it can take me to other worlds outside of my own imagination. This sounds incredibly kooky and fun. Lovely review Deb and so glad you enjoyed this one <3

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      I’ve actually not asked a lot about Claire’s writing as she’s done a heap of other interviews (links on her site) where people have asked about the publishing journey. I usually ask about that stuff cos it interests me so I went for a different angle about her time in the Solomons. I was also interested about her inspiration as she started (and I think finished!) a whole other book before writing this one… knowing the other one just wasn’t working.

  • Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers
    August 25, 2015

    I’m definitely going to be putting this book on my list as it sounds great andI love a book that transports you somewhere else.

    • Debbish
      August 25, 2015

      It is Vicki and it’s funny and the characters very relatable.

  • Elizabeth the Evil Overlord
    August 29, 2015

    Not available in US, although GR teased me by showing it available for Kindle. I’ll be on the look out.

    • Debbish
      August 30, 2015

      Oh bummer Elizabeth! Hopefully soon!

  • Trish @ Between My Lines
    August 30, 2015

    I don’t know anything about the Solomon Islands so this might be a good place to find out more about them! Sounds like an interesting book with quirky characters. I like the sound of it.

    • Debbish
      August 30, 2015

      Ah yes, the Solomons Islands aren’t particularly well heard of and definitely not the tourist mecca that is Fiji or Vanuatu etc….

  • Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic
    August 31, 2015

    This sounds good. I love that the setting is so evocative for you. Great review, Deb!

    • Debbish
      August 31, 2015

      Oh yes Jan… it brought back lots of memories!

  • Teddyree
    August 31, 2015

    My type of read, adding to my must read list. I’ve loved the less touristy south pacific islands we’ve lived and visited and I love when a story has such a wonderful sense of place. Thanks for fab review Deb!

    • Debbish
      August 31, 2015

      You’d definitely love this one then Teddyree!

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